Flames & Panthers Have Yet to Benefit from Blockbuster Trade

It seems difficult to believe, but it has already been nearly half a year since the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers pulled the trigger on one of the biggest trades the NHL has had in some time. Shortly after Matthew Tkachuk let it be known he wouldn’t be signing a long-term deal in Cow Town, general manager Brad Treliving had no choice but to find a trade partner. He was able to do just that, sending Tkachuk to the Panthers in exchange for Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, prospect Cole Schwindt and a conditional first-round pick in 2025.

From the Flames’ perspective, this deal was viewed as somewhat of a risk in the early going, as both Huberdeau and Weegar were entering the final years of their contracts. That is no longer an issue, as both have since signed eight-year extensions, proving their commitment to the organization.

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While there was some risk from the Flames’ side, however, it was far less than the risk Panthers general manager Bill Zito and the club were taking on. After all, this was a team that, despite having plenty of offensive talent the season prior, struggled to defend. That made dealing one of their best defenders in Weegar an extremely bold move, but one that had the potential to pay off in a big way. Now, while it is still far too soon to declare a winner, we have enough results to see how it has panned out for both sides in the early going.

Flames Struggling to Score

After a 2021-22 season in which the Flames led the Pacific Division with 111 points, most believed they would continue to be a threat throughout the entire 2022-23 campaign. Instead, they have struggled to find consistency through their first 35 games of the year, as they own a rather mediocre 16-12-7 record. The silver lining here, of course, is that with their most recent win over the Anaheim Ducks, they were able to leapfrog the Edmonton Oilers for the second wild card position in the Western Conference.

By all means, this team has the talent to be one of the best in the league, and that may very well prove to be true over the second half of the season. One of the biggest differences this season compared to the one prior, however, has been their lack of scoring. Part of that certainly has to do with Johnny Gaudreau, a player who scored 115 points in 2021-22, departing via free agency. Losing Tkachuk, a player who recorded 108 points himself, has also played a major role.

Jonathan Huberdeau Calgary Flames
Jonathan Huberdeau, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The expectation with the departure of those two was that Huberdeau would help fill the void. After all, he was coming off of a 115-point scorer, and for the last number of years has been regarded as one of the most skilled wingers in the game. That skill has yet to show up in a consistent form, however, as he has largely disappointed through his first 32 games with his new club, scoring just six goals and 24 points thus far.

In large part, Huberdeau’s struggles have played a big part in why the Flames have gone from averaging 3.55 goals per game a season ago, to a much more modest 3.11 in 2022-23. He certainly isn’t the only player to blame for the drop in production, but has not yet lived up to the player Flames fans were expecting.

From an offensive standpoint, Weegar himself hasn’t been as productive as expected. Coming into 2022-23, having just recorded a career-high 44 points, he has managed just seven assists through 34 games. That said, his defensive play has been very solid, and he has logged a ton of minutes on the back end. While you’d like to see more offense moving forward, he is playing good hockey for this team.

Panthers Struggling Defensively

Much like the Flames, the Panthers were incredible in 2021-22. Their 58 wins and 122 points earned the organization its first-ever Presidents’ Trophy. They were a team that could score at will, oftentimes outscoring their defensive issues.

They too have seen their overall offense decline this season, though sustaining the 4.11 goals per game pace they had in 2021-22 was nearly impossible to repeat. And, while their scoring is down, they still possess many offensive weapons in their lineup, perhaps none better than Tkachuk himself, who leads the team with 40 points in just 32 outings.

Matthew Tkachuk Florida Panthers
Matthew Tkachuk, Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Instead, the Panthers’ bigger issue this season has been their inability to keep pucks out of their net. After a 2021-22 season in which they allowed 2.95 goals against per game, they have seen that go up by nearly half a goal to 3.40. Some of that blame should deservedly be placed on the shoulders of their goaltenders, particularly Sergei Bobrovsky, but there is no question that no longer having Weegar on the back end has hurt as well.

Without Weegar in the picture, the Panthers have been forced to give some defensemen more minutes than they should be playing at this stage of their careers. Marc Staal, for example, who this late in his career is best suited in a bottom-pairing role, has been locked into a top-four role for a big chunk of the season.

Their lack of depth on the back end has resulted in them taking a major slide down the standings in 2022-23, as they sit well back of a wild card position in the Eastern Conference. Through 35 games, they sit at just 15-16-4, a record even their biggest detractors wouldn’t have believed was a possibility this season.

Both Teams Looking for Big Second Halves

As mentioned, it is still very early into this deal to grade. What is fair to say, however, is that neither has benefitted in terms of success in the standings, as both have regressed from a season ago. From the Flames’ perspective, they will have to hope Huberdeau can begin to produce more moving forward, while the Panthers will have to hope that their blue line can improve despite the absence of Weegar. Depending on how both play out in future years will give a better picture of the true winner of this trade, but it hasn’t felt overly successful for either club just yet.

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